The latest of these annual conferences for cycling campaign groups was expertly hosted by Cycle Sheffield in the impressive Victorian building called Firth Court that is part of the University of Sheffield.
It was a one-day conference sandwiched between rides on Friday night and Sunday. Quirky badges are used to promote ‘Sheffield FridayNightRides’ which attract 20 to 60 riders and ride about a dozen hilly miles. We were led through the historic city centre, learning about the founding of the Methodist Church, and up the valley sides to the largest listed building in Europe. This friendly deck-access housing development called Park Hill was built at the end of the 1950s. It has decks so wide they’re still referred to as ‘streets in the sky’, but you’d have to take a bike up the stairs or in the lift. We rode on through deserted parks and along surprisingly quiet but wide roads to a fish and chip shop on a street corner. The hills were a bit of a shock to us, so we left the ride to stay with our hosts.
On the Saturday there were 92 delegates. CycleNation’s president, Philip Darnton, chaired talks from Sustrans, CTC, CycleNation and CycleSheffield, updating conference on how best groups can embrace the new funding agenda that comes with a change of government. A new transport secretary, Justine Greening MP, had been announced during the morning, and the fact that she’d once been seen on a bicycle was a cause for optimism.
Presentations were projected onto a huge screen during speeches, but at other times this was used to display a ‘twitterwall’. This displayed the latest tweets tagged #cyclocal. Delegates started using it to comment on what was being said in the hall, and it was soon picked up by the cycling twitter-sphere. I noticed that tweeters outside the hall seemed to be using it to push a ‘going Dutch’ agenda.
I noted that Rod King of the ’20’s Plenty’ campaign promoted his afternoon workshop by saying ‘We’ve got to take the pain out of campaigning’. (See my other article in this newsletter about branding, later in this Newsletter.)
During the afternoon I presented two well-attended workshops on CycleStreets’ Campaigning Toolkit, now called Cyclescape. I was able to explain that this web-based system will help campaigns achieve their objectives by providing a structured, collaborative environment for discussion and action. There were lots of questions about, for example, how it could help a group challenge a council that is busily installing pinch points which many other groups have found create a hostile cycling environment. I illustrated how we used geographical information in our campaign to convert Kingston Street to two-way cycling. We were able to plot the postcodes of those signing our petition on a map, demonstrating that the issue affected a far wider range of people than just the residents of the street. That sort of geographical information should help campaigns throughout the country.
I wasn’t able to go to the other workshops, one of which was presented by committee colleague, Jim Chisholm.
A final talk to the whole conference by Danny Dorling, Professor of Human Geography at the University of Sheffield, confirmed what many already suspected. His complex and colourful maps, based on census data, provided a solid academic argument that Britain is dependent on the private car. Only two areas showed up as having very high per-capita cycle use, namely Cambridge and Hull. His research also suggested that cycling levels are higher in societies which are more equal – such as the Netherlands and Japan, but not the UK or US for instance.
I found myself invited onto the panel for the closing discussion, fielding questions from delegates anxious to know how a step change in cycling levels could be achieved.
The welcome in Sheffield was as big as the 90-metre long by 5-metre high stainless steel ‘Cutting Edge Sculpture’ that cleverly hides the dual carriageway at your exit from the railway station. Many thanks to the organisers and our hosts for showing us their city and looking after us so well.
Chris Dorling adds …
I decided not to attend Simon or Jim’s workshops, as I can get the benefit of their wisdom at other times. Instead, for the first workshop I picked the session led by Bristol Cycling Campaign entitled ‘Bristol – Cycling City’. This was more in the form of a presentation with opportunity throughout to ask questions, with their Chair, Martin Tweddell, leading and Treasurer, Steve Kinsella, providing additional details. As many of you will recall, Bristol was designated the only Cycling Development City at the same time that Cambridge became a Cycling Development Town, in 2008. Many of the problems faced sounded familiar from our experience in Cambridge: the time taken to get a team up and running; the focus on soft measures in the first year because of the delays associated with infrastructure changes, especially where land acquisition was necessary; and the trade-off between the most desirable schemes and those achievable within the timescale. They were quite pleased with the colour-coded cycle routes implemented (though they recognised that the fact they were all radial from the city centre was a limitation). They also welcomed the removal of city centre car parking to double the available cycle parking. And an idea they implemented that might be worth our considering is the use of smaller signs permitting pavement cycling to make them less obvious to drivers and hence reduce the pressure to ‘get off the road’.
For the second workshop session I chose ‘Total 20 – and how to get it in your community’. This was run by Rod King from 20’s Plenty for Us, who spoke at a Campaign monthly meeting a couple of years ago. He announced that they were expecting to sign up their 100th local group to the 20’s Plenty campaign any day. The key points that came out of the workshop were:
- 20’s Plenty is about social change not highway engineering; it has to be community-led and authority-endorsed, not the other way round
- it is important to focus on the financial benefits – there’s a spreadsheet on the 20’s Plenty website to help with this
- 70% of motorists say they want 20mph speed limits on residential streets
- the biggest reduction in casualties in places which have imposed city-wide 20mph areas is amongst motorists (37%).
All of these points confirm the view within our Committee that pressing for a wider 20mph area within Cambridge and introducing 20mph throughout the surrounding villages is something which benefits people in general and not just cyclists and is therefore not something on which the Campaign should lead, but clearly should support.